It's hard to have a sound night's sleep.
More and more people have found sleep to be an elusive creature, like a rabbit running from a hunter. Every time they get close, it seems to just slip away.
Some people suffer from insomnia. Others simply can't get the quality of sleep that they need. They may have trouble getting that deeper, REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep that the body requires.
It's no surprise that people are having more and more trouble falling and staying asleep these days. There are so many distractions! There are TV shows to catch up on, there is work to do, there are emails to send...you get the picture.
There are also so many things that stand between you and sleep. You may have noisy neighbors or your room may be facing a streetlight, constantly flooding your room with a soft orange glow all night.
No matter what the case is and what's keeping you up or keeping you from getting the sleep you need, this lack of proper sleep is affecting your life in ways that you may not even realize.
Not getting enough sleep can affect:
• Your work performance
• Your weight
• Your energy levels
• Your cognitive abilities
• Your mood
• Your health
• Your life longevity
That's right, I said your life longevity. Studies have shown that not getting the right amount of sleep can actually lead to a shorter lifespan. That whole motto, "I'll sleep when I'm dead," takes on a whole other meaning now, doesn't it?
I know that in our culture, these days, hard work and lack of sleep are synonymous and losing sleep is not only allowed, but praised; that doesn't make it right. Getting a high five and kudos for only sleeping four hours last night isn't going to give you back your health and vitality.
For those of you who are simply avoiding sleep, this article may not be for you. You need to go to sleep. Period. There's my advice to you.
For everyone else that suffers from lack of sleep or quality sleep, this article is for you! I am writing this in hopes that I can help you to feel more rested and be more efficient throughout your day.
Remember, if your sleep suffers, so does everything else!
So, what can you do to get a better night's sleep? Good question! I'm going to walk you through 3 tricks that are going to help to not only put you under, but help you sleep like a bear in hibernation.
Are you ready for the best night's sleep in your life? Awesome! Let's get started.
Trick #1: Create a Sleeping Environment
In order to thrive, things need to be in the right environment. Think about it: will an apple tree survive in the desert? Would a whale survive in the forest? No. The answer is a simple and firm no.
The same goes for your sleep. It can be hard for your quality and ability to sleep to thrive if the environment is wrong.
We were built to sleep in a certain way, with a certain type of environment. Because of modern society, this sleep environment has been disrupted—leading to improper sleep, which is turn leads to a body that doesn't function the way it should.
Think about your room. What level of light is there? Sound? Temperature? Are there things flashing, buzzing or ringing? What are you exposed to before you go to sleep?
All of these things matter.
Consider what it was like before living in a major city. Imagine living out on a ranch (if you don't already). Imagine the ranch's electricity shutting off around 6 PM. Now imagine the sights and sounds around you. Imagine the lack of hustle and bustle. Imagine the lack of street lights glowing outside. Imagine only the stars above, without an orange tint to the sky. Imagine cracking a window to allow in a cool breeze.
This is the type of environment that we, as people, are used to. Before the industrial revolution, there was a simpler, quieter form of sleep. Let's try and get back to that—as best as possible.
There are a few things to consider, though...
When you go to bed, what do you hear? Is it complete silence? Well, it should be.
One of the biggest contributors to a lack of quality sleep is noise. Sure, there are heavy sleepers out there that could sleep through a hurricane but, for most people, noise can cause us to miss out on sleep.
The noises around your house or outdoors may be causing issues with you falling asleep, may be waking you up or they may be interfering with your sleep subconsciously—affecting your quality of sleep without actually waking you up.
If there is a way for you to sleep in complete silence, that truly is golden. Quiet will help your brain to move through the stages of sleep that it needs to get through, as well as helping you to stay still and calm during your rest.
Turn off anything that will make noise at night and set a firm bedtime for everyone in your household. If you have loud neighbors, you may want to talk to them about what time is appropriate to make noise.
For some people, avoiding noise can be much harder. For people living in the city, for instance, noise is unavoidable. Even so, there are ways to dull or block out the noise to help your slumber.
One thing you can try is purchasing ear plugs. There are quite a few on the market and some that are specifically designed for sleep, which means they will be more comfortable and will last you through the night.
Another option is a white noise machine. Even though you will be hearing a noise throughout the night, the noise is still consistent and actually conducive to sleep. There are different types of white noise, so you'll want to find the kind that works best for you.
You also may want to try listening to binaural beats before you fall asleep or even during sleep. You'll need headphones for this, but luckily those headphones will help you to block out noise!
Remember, noise can make the difference between restful and restless sleep. Make sure you are sleeping in a quiet environment or at least are blocking out distracting noises.
I'm sure you've tried sleeping when it is too hot. Your air conditioner may have broken or you may have been staying at a family member's house who was trying to save money. Either way, you had the sheets sticking to you, and you found yourself tossing and turning, hoping some position would be magically cooler than another position.
You may have also been in the opposite environment. You have probably tried sleeping when it was super cold and found that getting the appropriate amount of rest was just as difficult.
Temperature plays a major factor in your quality of sleep. Although the temperature that you are most comfortable at may differ, for most people, a cool temperature is ideal.
There is something about snuggling up in warm sheets and with a warm comforter that makes sleeping so much easier and more pleasurable.
Make sure when you are trying to fall asleep, you get the temperature right!
Just as important as noise (or lack thereof) is darkness.
Let's go back in time. Let's go back to a time where gaslights were expensive and candles would die out or even burn your house down if you left them burning all night. This time period could be almost any time in human history.
Keep in mind: the invention of electricity is still pretty recent. Although you grew up with lights in your house, for most of human history people didn't.
So, imagine how dark it was at night. Imagine being able to see every star in the sky with zero light pollution. A simple curtain in your window could block out the moon—as could a tree.
Nowadays, people are surrounded by bright lights. Some people sleep with a small light on, while others have to deal with outdoor lights like streetlights invading their room. Still others have alarm clocks, TVs and other sources of light invading their nocturnal atmosphere.
Believe it or not, sleeping with the TV on isn't doing you any favors. Neither is the glow of the city outside.
In order to get the best sleep possible, you want to sleep in complete darkness.
Trust me, I know how uncomfortable this can be upfront. Most people aren't used to that level of darkness and it kind of freaks them out. Still, if you give it a few nights, you'll adjust and find that you are getting the best sleep imaginable.
Here are some tips for making sure you are in a state of complete darkness.
1. Cover your windows with a thick curtain. If it is really bright outside, use a light dampening curtain designed to block all light.
2. Cover any sort of LED or digital light: your clock, the light on your TV or anything else in your room that may be emitting a low glow.
3. If you are still getting light in your room, buy a sleep mask. They are relatively inexpensive and will dramatically help your sleep by blocking out light. Trust me, you'll get used to it!
4. Download a blue light filter for your phone. Checking your phone at night exposes you to blue light, a type of light that has been shown to wake the brain up. The filter will help to block the blue light, allowing you to check your phone without being slammed with a bunch of blue light.
If you utilize these tips, you should be able to recreate the level of darkness that your body is accustomed to and that you have evolved to handle.
A proper sleep environment is key to a good night's sleep. Make sure you are comfortable and in a quiet, cool and dark environment.
Trick #2: Take Care of Your Health
A lot of people don't realize that every aspect of your health is connected. Bad eating habits can cause issues with sleep, as can lack of exercise. Lack of sleep can also cause issues with weight loss and other bodily functions.
Your body is ONE UNIT. As much as we like to compartmentalize things and act like our bodies are made up of a bunch of different parts that work independently, in reality, all of these parts work together in a state of synchronicity.
What I'm getting at is that in order for you to sleep better, you need to make sure your eating and exercise habits are correct.
Let's start with what and how you eat, then we'll move on to exercise.
What You Eat and Drink
What you put into your body will greatly affect what you get out of your body and how it will function.
If you eat crappy foods, guess how your body is going to run?
Also, you have to take into consideration when you eat and what you eat at what time. I know that sounds sort of strange, but stick with me here and you'll understand what I'm trying to say.
There are different factors that will affect your sleep in terms of what you eat, what you drink and so on. Here are some things to consider.
What time you eat dinner.
What you need to keep in mind is that food gives us energy. Actually, that is one of its primary functions. So, it makes sense that when you eat heavy foods, like what is found in a normal dinner, you will need time to burn it off.
A lot of families get into the habit of eating dinner really late. This may be because people are working later now than they used to or it may be because of both the parents working but, whatever the reason, dinner is getting pushed back later.
This is a mistake.
A lot of dinners contain carbs, protein and sugars, all of which will need to be burned off at least a bit before you hit the bed. If you eat all of these energy rich foods before you go to bed, you're going to have trouble sleeping.
Try and cut your dinner time back to around 6 PM if possible. Research has shown that eating too late, like after 7 PM, can affect your body in negative ways: like affecting your sleep and digestion.
For some people, caffeine is their best friend. For sleep, on the other hand, it can be your worst enemy.
Don't get me wrong—I understand the craving for caffeine. I indulge in coffee in the morning, although I would eventually like to kick the habit.
Caffeine is a drug, believe it or not, and like any other drug it can be addictive. Your body gets used to the excess energy from caffeine and like any other drug, over time, it becomes harder to get the same high.
This leads to people drinking more and more caffeine to get the same buzz that a cup of coffee used to give them. So, instead of just a cup of Joe in the morning, people find themselves guzzling down sodas, energy drinks and energy shots throughout the day. Not to mention more coffee.
This may seem fine while you're doing it and you may not even notice all of the caffeine that you're taking in, but in reality, it's wreaking havoc on your sleep.
Try and limit your caffeine to early in the day. You really shouldn't be drinking caffeine past lunch, especially if you go to bed early. My general rule is no caffeine past 1 PM, but I can see some people pushing it back to 2 PM for that mid-afternoon crash.
Ideally, you should work towards weaning yourself off of caffeine altogether. This will mean adopting a lifestyle that eliminates the need for caffeine, including: better sleep, exercise and better nutrition.
Basically, watch your caffeine intake and try to cut back so over time, you are having as little as possible.
What you eat before bed.
I know I've already discussed this a little bit, but I wanted to give you a gentle reminder—don't eat right before you go to bed, if possible.
If you do decide to eat a snack before bed, try and stick to these...
• Cherries: They contain melatonin, which helps you sleep.
• Milk: Contains tryptophan, which can help you to relax.
• Melatonin: Sure, it's a supplement and not food, but I wanted to throw this one in here somewhere. It's naturally occurring in your body to help you sleep. Just don't overdo it.
• Sleepy Teas: There are specific decaf teas that are designed to help you sleep. Just make sure you read the label.
• Complex Carbs: Things like quinoa and wheat-based cereal can help you to snooze easier.
Obviously avoid coffee. Even decaf has small amounts of caffeine.
Also, avoid alcohol. I know a lot of people believe that alcohol helps them to sleep and even though it can help to put you under, digesting alcohol actually disrupts your sleep cycle and gives you a less restful sleep.
Keep these eating and drinking tips in mind before you hit the hay.
Now let's move on to...
Exercise is an important part of your overall health and this includes (of course) your sleep cycle.
Exercise helps you to fall asleep easier and have a much more restful sleep. Studies have shown that people who suffer from insomnia have an easier time falling asleep, and have a better quality of sleep, when they exercise.
Something that you should keep in mind is what time you exercise. Although it wears you out, you don't want to exercise too soon before bed. Getting your body pumped up can make it harder to fall asleep.
You want to exercise a few hours before you hit the hay.
You also don't have to exercise too hard. Studies have shown that something as simple as going for a walk can help you to sleep easier and fall asleep faster.
That's right! On top of all of the other health benefits that you get from proper exercise, you can add a good night's sleep to that list.
Something light that you can do before you go to bed is stretch. Stretching helps to relax the body, especially if you worked out that day, and can help your body to prepare to go to sleep.
As I mentioned, proper eating and exercise benefit other aspects of your life besides sleep and should be part of your day regardless. Think of a good night's sleep as an added bonus to all of the other benefits that you get from a proper diet and exercise.
Trick #3: Reduce Your Stress Levels
One of the most obvious things that is keeping you up at night is your stress levels. You may toss and turn all night, thinking about the day you had and what's coming tomorrow.
I know that I was that way. I would go to bed and as soon as I let my mind go, it went straight to my stressors. I thought about my relationships, I thought about my workout routines, I thought about the work I did that day, I thought about the work I had to do the next day...my mind wouldn't stop going!
Moreover, it was exhausting. All of this thinking and stress made me more tired, but it also kept me up. What was left was waiting around to fall asleep followed by a restless night's sleep.
It wasn't until I heard some amazing tips that I was able to sleep better. These tip changed the way I handled my stress, which in turn helped me to get the best night's sleep imaginable. Suddenly, I was able to go to sleep with ease and without all of those stressors weighing down on my mind.
Don't worry, I'm not going to hold out on those tips! I'm going to let you in on them right now...
Tip #1: Plan Out the Next Day Before You Go to Bed
A little planning goes a long way!
The problem most people have with rumination is thinking about what is coming up. This comes from poor planning.
I'm sure you've had the experience of going to bed and then thinking about what you have coming up the next day, but not knowing when you are going to do everything. You also may have forgotten some things and then you think about how you are going to squeeze them in. You may then start worrying that you'll forget these things again.
All of this can be avoided by planning your next day in advance.
Sit down each night and open up your planner. You can either buy a physical one or use an app on your phone.
Then, start plugging in all of the major events you have that day. You may have to go to work, school or the gym.
Then, go in and start plugging in the one-off events.
Do you have a meeting that day? An appointment? Are you going to the dentist? Does your kid have a baseball game?
Finally, start looking at more incidental things, like what time you want to eat your meals, what time you want to go to the grocery store and what time you plan on being in transit.
Once you have all of this plugged in, you'll be a step ahead in removing the rumination from your sleep cycle.
Tip #2: Schedule Time to Think About Stressors
This may sound crazy, but trust me, it works!
Part of the issue with stressful thoughts is that they come and go whenever. This can lead you to daydreaming about stressors or getting lost down a rabbit hole of stressful thoughts. To avoid all of this, plan out a time to think about all of these things at once.
That's right, I'm telling you to look at your day and find a time that you can just sit around thinking stressful thoughts.
This may feel overwhelming at first. You may even stress out about thinking about stressful thoughts all at once. Still, after a few sessions, you'll learn to compartmentalize. You'll end up creating a space to deal with your stressors in detail with no distractions.
Doing this has helped me to not only reduce stressful thoughts throughout my day, but also to solve a lot of the issues I have coming up.
This focused time allows me to really work through my stressors without having to worry about whatever is going on around me, like work or playing with my kids. I can get as in depth as I want and, by the time I'm done, I have nothing left to think about.
Think about it this way...you're basically doing it already. The problem is, instead of doing it at a time of your choosing, you are doing it right before you go to sleep. This makes it harder to fall asleep and screws up your sleep cycle.
Start putting time aside in your day to just ruminate. It will help you to balance your day overall.
Tip #3: Get Ahead of Your Work
A lot of the stress that we feel comes from upcoming deadlines. You may have work or schoolwork that's weighing you down and even though the deadline hasn't approached yet, you can feel it getting closer.
To avoid this issue, try to work on getting ahead instead of being right on time or even worse, falling behind.
I know the standard that has been set is to simply not fall behind, but for your own piece of mind, that probably isn't enough. I feel like just getting by is a form of laziness. You should always be striving to get ahead and part of that is getting ahead on your work.
Think about how good you will feel going to bed knowing that the project that you are working on isn't just getting closer to being done, but is actually finished ahead of time! This allows you to work on the next thing and get ahead on that as well.
These three tips will help to reduce your stress and rumination, which will help your sleep cycle overall.
You NEED Sleep
Don't try and be a tough guy, acting like sleep isn't important to you and sleep is for the weak. The only weakness is the weakness that you'll feel from not getting enough sleep!
In order for your body, your mind and everything else to run properly, you need to sleep. Make sure that you have built the right environment around you, you are taking care of your body and you are doing what you can to reduce stress.
With all of these things combined, you're one step closer to the best sleep of your life!